Red Hat is expected to provide a missing link in the open source software infrastructure next week with its release of source code for the Netscape directory server it acquired last year from AOL.
A few weeks after that free server is made available, Red Hat is scheduled to release a commercial version of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)-based directory called Red Hat Directory Server. This will include services and support for a monthly subscription fee, and give Red Hat another piece in its evolving middleware stack.
Besides creating a data store to manage user and policy information for authentication and authorisation, the addition of an open source directory could lead to an expansion of security and identity management tools on Linux and other open source platforms that may raise their enterprise value.
"Without a directory, it's been difficult to position Linux as an enterprise system," Gartner analyst, John Enck, said. "The directory is core to everything. If you look at where all the vendors are going, everybody is trying to create the directory as a foundation piece and tie their stack of software to it."
The open source community has been trying to address the directory issue, but the OpenLDAP project, which Red Hat implements and ships with its operating system, has been criticised for not providing scalability to complement the so-called open source LAMP stack: Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP/ Python.
In comparison, Netscape released its Directory Server in 1996 and pundits hailed the scalability and administrative controls of the standards-based software, which ignited centralisation of corporate directory information. The directory was the foundation for a major US Department of Defense project in the late 1990s to secure military information systems.
Red Hat's commercial version of the directory is a challenge to vendors that have commercial Linux-based directories but do not open the source code for public consumption. Those vendors include IBM, Oracle, Sun and Novell, which has ported eDirectory to Linux along with a complement of identity management and security tools.
"Their challenge is the other parts of identity and access management and security around this directory technology; how do they plan to [develop] that aspect of it?" director of product marketing for Novell, Ashish Larivee, said.
While the directory only is infrastructure, what it supports in terms of security and access control is mandatory for today's Web-based distributed corporate networks. It is those directory-enabled tools that are key not only to the success of LAMP but also to Red Hat, experts have said.
"This is part of Red Hat evolving from just an operating system company to more of a software company," Illuminata analyst, Gordon Haff, said. "The more significant issue is the difficulty of tying all the pieces together into a single stack that really works together. That's where Red Hat is moving."
That stack competes with those from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun.
Red Hat's plan is to open source all of the Netscape technology it acquired under the General Public License (GPL), according to a company spokesperson.
"Open source architecture is our long-term strategy," he said. "[Red Hat Directory Server] is going to provide another critical piece of business infrastructure that's standards-based for open source architectures. Red Hat is very committed to making sure all of the software that we deliver for enterprise infrastructure is made available under the GPL. We think that's just better business."